Benjamin Cook thought he might be famous after he made a video showcasing his skills as a poacher.
But his plan backfired after a clip of him catching sea trout on a Dorset river with an illegal net appeared on You Tube and was seen by a sharp-eyed fisheries officer who recognised Cook.
Instead of multiple hits on social media and celebrity status, Cook, 31, was arrested and ordered to pay £475 in fines and costs by Bournemouth magistrates. It is the first time the Environment Agency has used evidence from social media to secure a conviction.
In the You Tube clip entitled ‘Poachin in Poole’, Cook can clearly be seen removing a large sea trout from a fixed monofilament net on the River Sherford near Kings Bridge, Dorset. On the bank nearby are two other sea trout.
On the video Cook is heard to say, ‘Basically boys, this is how you poach salmon…. What do I know I’ve only been doing it since I was a boy. We loves our poaching net. Its in the blood…like a drug addiction. Once you’ve got it you’ve got it for life.’
Cook, who has previous convictions for poaching and obstructing a fisheries officer, was arrested at his home on February 15, 2013 and taken to Bournemouth police station for questioning. He admitted fishing for salmon and sea trout without a licence and confirmed he’d seen the You Tube video.
Cook denied loading the clip onto You Tube. When asked how he felt about being seen on the social media site he said ‘He didn’t care.’ He added that if the video received enough hits it might be ‘shown on telly’ and he could be ‘famous.’
The court heard that the Agency had spent £25,000 in 2012 on improvements to help salmon and sea trout migrate up the River Sherford to their spawning grounds. The river flows into Poole Harbour where netting is strictly controlled to protect fish stocks.
Cook’s net was placed across the river to intercept fish swimming upstream. By catching them in this way he was preventing them from spawning and harming the local salmon and sea trout populations that are vulnerable to poaching. Cook denied catching fish for profit and claimed they were eaten. The three sea trout in the video were worth around £120.
‘We won’t hesitate to prosecute anyone we find illegally fishing and would urge members of the public to report suspected incidents of poaching,’ said Stuart Kingston-Turner for the Environment Agency.
Appearing before Bournemouth magistrates, Cook, of Patchins Road, Poole, Dorset was fined £175 and ordered to pay £300 costs after pleading guilty to using an unlicensed net to catch salmon and sea trout on the River Sherford in contravention of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975. The case was heard on Monday (Dec 2).